Retrograde Wallerian degeneration of cranial corticospinal tracts in cervical spinal cord injury patients using diffusion tensor imaging

J Neurosci Res. 2008 Aug 1;86(10):2271-80. doi: 10.1002/jnr.21664.


Diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) has the potential to reveal disruption of white matter microstructure in chronically injured spinal cords. We quantified fractional anisotropy (FA) and mean diffusivity (MD) to demonstrate retrograde Wallerian degeneration (WD) of cranial corticospinal tract (CST) in cervical spinal cord injury (SCI). Twenty-two patients with complete cervical SCI in the chronic stage were studied with DTI along with 13 healthy controls. Mean FA and MD values were computed for midbrain, pons, medulla, posterior limb of internal capsule, and corona radiata. Significant reduction in the mean FA and increase in MD was observed in the cranial CST in patients with SCI compared with controls, suggesting retrograde WD. Statistically significant inverse FA and MD changes were noted in corona radiata, indicating some restoration of spared white matter tracts. Temporal changes in the DTI metrics suggest progressing degeneration in different regions of CST. These spatiotemporal changes in DTI metrics suggest continued WD in injured fibers along with simultaneous reorganization of spared white matter fibers, which may contribute to changing neurological status in chronic SCI patients.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Anisotropy
  • Cervical Vertebrae
  • Child
  • Diffusion Magnetic Resonance Imaging*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Image Interpretation, Computer-Assisted
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Pyramidal Tracts / pathology*
  • Spinal Cord Injuries / pathology*
  • Wallerian Degeneration / pathology*